VICTORIA – Premier Christy Clark’s “B.C. Jobs Plan” took some hits as she was finishing her week-long publicity tour to roll it out.
The serious damage wasn’t from her political opponents on the left and right. The body blows came from Europe, the United States and China, where the storm clouds of a second recession continued to gather. As world leaders offered up a chorus of warning about debt and falling consumer demand, commodity markets for metals, coal and petroleum tumbled along with stocks.
One of the few firm targets Clark offered was that eight new mines should be up and running in B.C. by 2015, with expansions or upgrades to nine more existing mines. That is the total arrived at after detailed meetings with the industry. But if China’s factories slow down because fewer Americans and Europeans buy their goods, those projects can fade as quickly as the price of copper.
Total provincial spending for the B.C. jobs plan comes out around $300 million. The big-ticket items were contributions to port and rail facilities at Prince Rupert and Tsawwassen. Another $24 million goes to staff up natural resource permit offices, which are backlogged after amalgamation of various ministry functions.
NDP leader Adrian Dix leapt on that announcement, saying it proves that the B.C. Liberals starved the regional offices.
He’s right on that. For example, the resource ministry’s regional director for Skeena told the Bulkley-Nechako regional district board this spring that he has 30 per cent less staff than five years ago. Some of that is a result of ending duplication of forest, energy and other ministries, but by this spring there were 65 independent power projects waiting for approval in Skeena alone.
Of course the NDP would fix that backlog by killing off the projects, and presumably break up the natural resources ministry again, to ramp up their beloved government jobs.
The NDP also jumped on B.C. Liberal MLA John Les for going to high-unemployment Nanaimo and suggesting people should look north where jobs are going begging.
Construction company Ledcor had job fairs in Prince George and Chetwynd in early September, looking for hundreds of truck drivers, heavy equipment operators, drillers, blasters, mechanics, surveyors and labourers for the Willow Creek coal mine in Tumbler Ridge. Another job fair was held in Fort St. James around the same time, looking for equipment operators for the Mount Milligan copper-gold mine.
I had a chat a couple of weeks ago with a grader operator in Dawson Creek, working in the gas patch. Most of the pickups he sees on job sites have Alberta licence plates.
So let’s say you’re an able-bodied unemployed guy sitting in Nanaimo, waiting for a job to come to you. If that’s how you think the economy works, it’s no surprise if your preferred political message is Dix’s 1960s socialist blather about the government forcibly sharing the wealth. And it’s no surprise that you’re unemployed.
B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins trashed the Prince Rupert port announcement as a payoff to local aboriginal people for a potash facility.
“The usual Liberal policy of giving natives a veto on new projects has got to end,” Cummins said, demonstrating once again that he understands nothing about the evolution of this issue in the past 20 years.
In summary, Clark’s jobs plan is to continue Gordon Campbell’s Pacific gateway strategy. The opposition parties are reheating decades-old failed options they hope will smell better than a stale three-term government.
And B.C. is, as always, at the mercy of world events.
Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com